The day I turned 45 was the worst day of my life. I wish things never turned the way it did. My birthday was all festive at first. There was plenty jollof rice and pepper snail, my robust friends on laces and matching gele. King Sunny Ades' life performance with melodies that seep into one's brain got me all flirty on the dance floor with my makeup covered in happy sweat.
The typical owambe (party) I planned in my head weeks earlier. Down the line, I knew something was not right. Every minute that passed, I would push my way through the crowd to use the restroom. On my way back, I'd peep through the keyhole to my son's room begging him to open up. He never did. He stayed there all day.
Let me bring you up the speed. My son, Dayo's birth was quite different from the norm. Unlike other newborns, he smiled at his first contact with the new environment. He didn't cry. When I saw he had crossed eyes and a weird smile, I felt my heartbreak. I knew he was deformed in some kind of way, all I wanted the was a perfect human. As he grew and developed, I noticed some odd character traits in him. Then, the doctors told me he was Schizophrenia positive.
My baby boy grew to be a good-looking teenager despite the delay in his walking and talking stages. Eighteen by age but behaved like a ten-year-old, loved his cartoons and teddy bears and could not speak so well. He usually had anxiety disorders which almost claimed his life on a particular trip to Dubai.
Even with my busy schedule, I never forget to take him on our regular Friday movie and ice cream dates. I got a lot of support in training him that one would doubt that I was a single mum. For all the years I've been with him, that was the first time he refused to speak to me. I could no longer bring myself to get back to the party. All I wanted was to see my son. Then I came to the door again. I brought his doctor with me because I wanted someone by my side to comprehend everything.
She was a little older than me and also a friend to the family. Being the only person that understood Dayo's condition medically, it was a responsible choice to let her know. “I brought you cake” Doctor Fumi said in her sweetest voice as she knocked calmly. “Wait…” I whispered. “He likes cake?” “Yes, with plenty peanut butter. I had one of the waiters cut out a slice for me”. “I see,” I said with an awkward smile, disappointed that I did not know that.
He hesitated and repeated the same thing I got all night “Go away”. I was confused, All I asked in my head was “why?” Me, go away? We were in front of his door begging and knocking all evening that I had not realized the party was almost over. It was getting dark and the DJ was packing up already. I managed to bid a few of my friends goodbye praying that they don't notice the facial expression.
If only I could see him because I was terrified by the thoughts of him being all by himself in that bedroom.
The door cracked open and he peeped. Still seeing us there, he cringed and shut it again. No, he cringed when he saw me and gave the doctor a half-smile. 'At least, we are sure he's alive' I thought out aloud, Doctor Fumi smiled in agreement. She offered him the peanut butter cake again.
“Tell her to go…to go away” he stuttered. Then she looked at me with pity eyes and I could hardly drag my feet to leave. My own Ifedayo, it was so unbelievable.
A few hours later, I was in the sitting room with my daughters after I explained to them all that went down. One would see us and think we were mourning, I was relieved when I heard Doctor's footsteps approaching.
“Tinu, he saw your diary.” She said with the most disappointing eyes.
I felt the world around me stop for a minute. Everyone was waiting for me to speak up but my throat went dry, I could hardly feel saliva in my mouth. The sitting room was pin-drop silent, I could hear the clock ticking. Doctor Fumi tossed the diary to my side and crossed her arms standing right in front of me. I bent my head in regret as I stared at her shoes, my old red diary on my thighs. I felt so messed up.
My daughters were sensitive enough to excuse us after they exchanged questioning glances. Then I opened the diary, feeling every part of the pages soaked with depressing thoughts of my early days. My late father gifted the diary to me on the day before he passed on. He instructed that I write positive things only but I did not keep to his wishes. As soon as my last marriage turned sour, it became a book of my darkest secrets and deep bad thoughts.
“I also read it. How could you, Tinu?” She said, “I thought you loved your son! I thought you loved Dayo!”. She was not 'scolding me' per se but I didn't take it. The last thing I wanted was for someone to scream at me.
“ Fumi… I understand you being his doctor but coming to my house to yell at me is something I'm not going to tolerate. Now if you would excuse me, I have to speak to my son” I snapped with my eyes that could spit fire and stormed out giving her the 'eyes'.
The door to Dayo's room was open. I looked and there he was, sitting on the bed cuddling two pillows, rocking back and forth. One would think he practised “roll like a ball” in yoga. I removed my heels quietly and sat at the edge of the bed taking a closer look at him. He moved farther away from me while I saw a tear roll down his eyes to touch his quivering lips. Doctor Fumi stood at the door, arms crossed, looking sorry for her outburst but I didn't even care about that. She deserved it.
Dayo struggled to speak up from his shaky lips. He played with his fingers and scratched his head at intervals. My poor boy. “So…you never w.w…wanted me?” He stuttered as he took a glance and focused on his fingers again.
“No. My God, No. Nothing like that. I wrote that years ago, I was young and stupid”. I said interrupting him. Convincing Dayo every time was a hard task, I said a quick prayer for heaven's help. The miserable look on his face made my heart sink.
“Stop lying! I saw… I saw it!” He replied throwing a pillow at me. “It read: I always wanted a perfect son not a mentally disabled half baby. I got that sentence so well! Mum, you never loved me. I want to go…go far away from you!” He said with so much scorn. He could not even stand me.
“Dayo, that was eighteen years ago. I promise you, everything is fine now. Writing that down in the diary was a stupid mistake. When your father ended the marriage before I birthed you, I was depressed and sad. Trust me, those days are over. I love you so much, more than anything” I said wishing that he understood me.
Awkward silence. He stopped moving and stared into space, biting off his fingernails. He stole glances occasionally from me but never said anything. I wanted him to say something. His silence was killing me.
“She showed me” He said.
I felt sick to my stomach. At that point, I sensed where all these were heading to.
I knew a day like this would come but why that particular day? I was supposed to be celebrating my 45th and not regretting a stupid mistake. It was unreal. I blame my mother-in-law for everything.
I watched as Dayo sniffed the peanut butter cake and he took a careless bite. “I said she showed me what you wrote,” He said and stuttered like he was still trying to understand what he said. I stared at Doctor Fumi behind me, such a beautiful devil. She could kill you and weep the most at your funeral.
She was expressionless. A fly could perch on her face, and she won't move. Her guts to even stand before me.
''Mo kú oh. I'm dead.'' I muttered and shook my head with a faint smile. My head was spinning, my heart racing, I wonder who else she told about this. My heart, ah. I did not know how to feel. Fumilayo has finished me.
“ How could you?” My voice was cold and angry. She hesitated and furrowed her eyebrows. “How could I do what?” She replied, pretending like her betrayal schemes were not already exposed. The audacity.
“Tinu. I can't continue to live with guilt” She spoke up. “The switch was a mistake, I could have never done it. It's just that the money was tempting and I needed it”. She made everything seem like my fault and the fact she gave me a sarcastic reply got to my nerves.
I heaved a deep sigh and went to the window, focusing on taking deep breaths to control my anxiety. I was not ready for that conversation.
The beautiful view helped a little. My heart was heavy but I managed to speak.
“You know the reason why I did not want another girl. My mother-in-law wouldn't let me sleep in peace till I gave her a grandson. The pressure was much, my ex-husband being a coward could not stand up to her, I had no choice but to conceal the sex of the baby from everyone. I confided in you, just you Fumi as my friend and personal doctor. Do you think showing Dayo a diary was a responsible choice? Was it a wise thing to do?” I spat out in anger.
I noticed the change in her expression. She looked terrified and I knew she was hiding something. There was a moment of pin-drop awkward silence.
"I did not show him your diary for Christ's sake. His mom…your nanny did. The one who gave me the peanut butter cake”
Cold shivers ran down my spine, my goosebumps were evident. I never read the signs. Fumi volunteered to get Dayo a nanny 10 years back. The bond between both of them was too good to be true. I remember a time Dayo had a migraine, she wept just seeing him like that. Regardless, they did not have a striking resemblance so one would not think.
“That day in the hospital, there was both of you in labour. Immediately you both put to bed, I had the babies switched. I never remained the same ever since. When I saw that you wanted a nanny, I quickly brought her to apply after I told her everything. Tinu, I promise you that all I did what from a good place in my heart”. She paused and I turned to look at her, wondering why she was close to tears. This was my mess.
Dayo was fast asleep with the cake in his hands, we had forgotten that he was present. She continued. “She is sorry for exposing the truth this way. Being fearful of you as her madam, she never said a word about it to anyone. She agreed to live this way as far as she gets to bond with her son. Seeing the diary and showing it to Dayo was a stupid thing to do. I've been with her throughout the party, she never stopped saying that you will fire her. I know a person who is sorry when I see one ”. She sighed “She is sorry”.
“Where is she?” I asked eagerly waiting for a reply. “Martha,” she said like she was beckoning on someone. Then I knew my nanny was there all along.
Martha showed up behind Fumi looking like a bird ready to be devoured. Her eyebrows slightly raised with her mouth half-opened. She fiddled with her uniform nervously looking down and shaking. Ah, Was I that difficult to approach? I know I could be obnoxious and bossy but that bad?
“And my daughter?” I asked no one in particular but I knew who I wanted an answer from
“Madam, she is with me. I'm sorry Ma. I should have not shown him the diary knowing his condition and how it could affect him mentally. I dey sorry”. She muttered. “ I just want him to know the truth. Nothing more, the diary was not an option at all. Please forgive me, abeg no sack me”. She pleaded still hiding behind Fumilayo.
Her shaky voice let me no choice. I had to forgive. Writing the diary at first was out of frustration for seeing how Dayo looked at birth. I knew he was switched but I wanted a normal baby. His early growth and development were tough that it influenced my marriage amongst other things. Now, I was on my own facing the consequences of my actions. I saw reasons with Martha and Fumilayo. Dayo deserves to know the truth, and I deserved to be reconciled with my daughter. She was 18, I wondered if she would find a place in a heart to forgive me. It was time to make everything right.
“Martha, it's okay. Don't worry, I won't sack you” I said with a weak smile. “I too made a mistake, I shouldn't have written that. Dayo is a special child and requires all the care and attention he can get. You can go with him or keep him here if you want. Regardless, I promise to foot the bills of his therapy sessions, special classes and anything alike just to make such he grows in a sound mind and body”.
The relief and genuine smiles on their faces were second to none. I felt somewhat happy too
“I want to see my daughter tomorrow. She needs to know everything too. I pray she's not short-tempered if not my head will pay for it” I said with a joking voice. They chuckled at my dry joke and the tension in the air disappeared. I was glad it did.
“Madam. Just know that God will bless you. Dayo is still your son, no matter what happens” Martha said with a big grin on her face.
“ Tinu, you are an amazing soul. The number or the sex of your children should not define you. A male or female children have the same worth” Fumi said and patted me at the back. “You will be fine” She added and reached out for a hug.
“I need to go and freshen up now. It's been one hell of a crazy night”. I said and they agreed with a nod. Deep down, I just wanted to go behind the close doors of my bedroom and cry my heart out.
p data-empty=”true”>THE END.